Prominent religious leaders explore the topic of gender

Over 80 people gathered at St Mary’s Stoke d’Abernon recently to question and learn from female leaders within Judaism, Islam and Christianity on the topic of gender in religious leadership.

Panellists for the event included Julie Siddique, listed in the Times’ 100 Most Influential Muslim Women in the UK list, Rabbi Kath Vardi, interfaith campaigner and Bishop Jo Bailey-Wells, the Bishop of Dorking and 10th female bishop in the Church of England.

The speakers each presented a brief exploration of gender in the leadership of their religion before an audience question and answer session.

Kauser Akhtar, Surrey Faith Links Adviser, who organised the event, commented: “Through events like this we can help to shine a light on significant issues, like gender in religious leadership, which may otherwise go unnoticed and unchallenged.

“It was fantastic to see so many people come together to explore this important topic from an interfaith perspective, building friendships and understanding between faiths.”



Bishop Jo Bailey Wells

Bishop Jo Bailey WellsJo Bailey Wells is the Bishop of Dorking. She was ordained in 1995 in the first wave of female priests. Between 1995 and 2001 she served as Chaplain and then Dean of Clare College, Cambridge. Roles followed as Tutor in Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Ridley Hall Cambridge, Director of the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies and Associate Professor of Bible and Ministry at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina and Chaplain to Archbishop Justin Welby, where responsibilities included founding the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace. She is also Canon Theologian at Liverpool Cathedral. She has written two books on the Old Testament – God’s Holy People and a commentary on Isaiah – and numerous articles.

Jo is the 10th female bishop in the Church of England. In the diocese of Guildford, Bishop Jo assists Bishop Andrew in overseeing 160 local churches and carries particular responsibility for the discernment, vocation and training needs of new clergy as well as looking after the 85 church schools.

Jo is married to Sam, who is vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, and a writer and broadcaster. They have two children. Jo’s interests include art, architecture and renovation. In her own journey of faith she owes much to sojourns in South Africa and Uganda, and over the past 12 years has supported the work of theological education across the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan through regular visits for teaching and consultation.

Rabbi Kath VardiRabbi Kath Vardi
Rabbi Kath Vardi took up her post at NWSS following her semicha(ordination) from Leo Baeck College on 2 July 2017 when she was awarded a master’s degree in rabbinic theology.

Rabbi Kath and her family have relocated from Preston in Lancashire to Surrey, and she notes that the whole family, who are avid walkers, have already discovered the wonderful countryside and are planning on tackling some of the North Downs.

One area of particular importance to Rabbi Kath is interfaith relationships and she noted that this is going to be a fundamental part of her work and of the synagogue’s work as a community. Building relationships both within and between communities means that communities are able to share their strengths and support one another in their work. Sharing common concerns and working together is an essential element of community building.

Julie Siddique
Julie SiddiqueJulie Siddique is a mentor, consultant and gender equality campaigner with a specific focus on Jewish-Muslim and other interfaith relations and on applying that to social action work together. She has a background in community grass roots work spanning 20 years and founded a local charity for Muslim women’s needs which she led for 10 years, gaining an acute knowledge of the personal challenges faced by women. She has nationally coordinated The Big Iftar during Ramadan, which has seen such events as the first ever, Iftar (breaking of the fast) reception at Lambeth Palace hosted by Archbishop Justin Welby in 2014. She is an Advisor for the Jewish led social action project, Mitzvah Day.

Julie was the Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Britain from 2010-2014 and led on several high profile campaigns during this period.  She represented the UK’s Islamic charities at the Enough Food IF rally in Hyde Park speaking to an audience of 40k. She spearheaded a national community based campaign against sexual grooming and child exploitation and was pivotal in peace initiatives following the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. She has spoken on many news programmes including BBC Radio 4 and Newsnight, at the Christian festival, Greenbelt and the Jewish festival, Limmud, and at receptions hosted by the British Armed Forces. She is a Fellow in the Faith and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths University and is a member of the National Advisory Group for the Christian Muslim Forum.

Julie was previously listed in the Times Newspaper’s 100 Most Influential Muslim Women in the UK. She has been a contributor to Pause for Thought with Vanessa Feltz on Radio 2 and a judge for the BBC local radio Frank Gillard Awards. She has participated in two pieces of work with the University of Cambridge – Contextualising Islam in Britain and Narratives of Conversion and is an alumni and now faculty member for the Senior Faith Leaders Programme by Faith In Leadership and is an alumni of Women in Leadership, from Windsor Leadership, 2015. She was runner-up for the Community Relations Award at the Muslim News Awards 2016. Julie chose Islam as her way of life in March 1995 and is married with four children.

Q & A Session